I don’t know if you’re as up-to-date on Beyoncé news as I (always) am, but Beyoncé has insomnia, a common sleep disorder in which you experience persistent problems falling and staying asleep. The original source: last September’s issue of Harper’s Bazaar, in which Queen Bey graced us on the cover and with a headline-making quote in the interview that stated, “I’ve personally struggled with insomnia from touring for more than half of my life.” While I’m not surprised that Beyoncé’s health habits became news-worthy across platforms like People, Insider, and Yahoo! News (I mean, when she mentioned she was vegan, the whole world gave up dairy), I was surprised at how many people resonated with not getting enough sleep.
According to The Sleep Foundation, as many as 30% of adults (and up to 48% of older adults) struggle with chronic insomnia. Moreover, women are 40% more likely to experience insomnia in their lifetime than men (*eye roll*—as if we didn’t already have enough to deal with. I bet Jay-Z is sleeping soundly!). Sleeping troubles are so common that the CDC even declared sleep disorders a public health epidemic. Basically, Beyoncé is just like us! Since lack of sleep is one of the most common health issues out there, we definitely need to be talking about it more.
I grilled sleep experts for all the info on how to identify insomnia as well as their best tips and tricks to relieve it and help you get a good night’s sleep. Even if the cause of your sleep troubles does not have to do with a demanding tour schedule à la Beyoncé, read on for a guide to why you’re not falling or staying asleep and expert-backed tips on getting the best sleep of your life.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia can have many definitions. For one, the word can be used to mean any kind of sleep troubles that have to do with your body not getting the quality sleep it needs. “Insomnia can present itself in various forms,” explained Dr. Cassandra Aasmundsen-Fry, Psy.D, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of MindWell. “It can look like trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, frequent waking, or waking up too early. Often, it’s a combination all of these.”
Another definition is a diagnosis: insomnia disorder. Dr. Allison Siebern, PhD, CBSM, a clinical psychologist who is certified in behavioral sleep medicine by the American Board of Sleep Medicine and the head sleep science advisor for Proper, explained that insomnia symptoms are when someone struggles to fall asleep or stay asleep periodically, which most people go through at different periods in their lives. Insomnia disorder has specific clinical criteria that health care professionals use to diagnose. Insomnia disorder is typically chronic, meaning a patient experiences insomnia symptoms consistently.
“The criteria of insomnia disorder versus insomnia symptoms include difficulties getting to sleep and/or staying asleep at least three nights a week for at least three months or if this sleep disruption leads to distress or impairment,” Dr. Siebern explained. She also pointed out that a medication, substance, or illness might be the cause of difficulty falling or staying asleep, which is not technically defined as insomnia disorder and should be identified and worked through with your doctor.
How do you know if you have insomnia?
“Insomnia” sounds like a scary word, but insomnia symptoms can be used to describe not being able to fall asleep or if you wake up throughout the night and can’t fall back asleep. “You have insomnia if you have been struggling to fall or stay asleep or are waking earlier than intended,” Dr. Aasmundsen-Fry said. You also might experience symptoms throughout the day that are caused by not getting enough sleep like chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and physical symptoms like headaches. Everyone might experience bouts of sleeplessness here and there, but consult a doctor if you have trouble sleeping for more than three months.
Not sure what “normal” falling asleep looks like? Not sure if waking up from a bad dream or a need to pee falls under the insomnia category? “An adult should first fall asleep within 10 to 20 minutes,” explained Dr. Carleara Weiss, PhD, MSH, RN. “If you do wake up in the middle of the night, it should be short (no more than 30 minutes).” Another factor that can signal insomnia is how you feel when you wake up. “If you don’t feel well-rested when you wake up, it might be a sign of poor sleep quality and insomnia,” Dr. Weiss said.
If it takes you longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, you consistently wake up for 30+ minutes throughout the night, or you feel exhausted even after seven to eight hours of sleep, talk to your doctor about sleep disorders or possible causes. For the occasional bout of insomnia symptoms or while you’re working with your doctor, read on for expert-backed tips to help you sleep better.
Tips to get the best sleep of your life:
1. Don’t have caffeine after noon
Bad news: Caffeine could be disrupting your sleep. It varies based on how caffeine is metabolized in the body: Some people can have an espresso shot at 5 p.m. and sleep like a baby, while some people cannot even have a cup at 9 a.m. without feeling the effects at night. If you’re not sure which camp you fall into, Dr. Aasmundsen-Fry recommended stopping your caffeine intake after noon as a good rule of thumb. Yes, that might mean kissing your 2 p.m. Americano goodbye (sigh), but caffeine is in more than just coffee. Everything from soda to pre-workout supplements to green tea to chocolate can contain caffeine, so check the nutrition labels if your body is struggling to sleep at night.
2. Limit screen time in the evenings
More bad news if Netflix is your go-to bedtime ritual (guilty) or your only time to catch up on Real Housewives is late at night: “The light from electronic devices (TV, tablets, laptops, and cellphones) have a negative impact on the natural production of melatonin, which impacts your body’s ability to sleep,” Dr. Weiss said. “Screens are both stimulating and can be a source of stress and tension,” Dr. Aasmundsen-Fry agreed. Yes, that means turning off Hulu and having a designated work cutoff time before bedtime, but it also means that if you do wake up in the middle of the night, don’t start scrolling on your phone in an effort to lull your body back to sleep. If you’re feeling restless or anxious when you wake up, turn on a dim light to read something relaxing or get out of bed altogether (more on that below).
3. Be consistent in your sleep schedule
If you’re sleeping in until noon on weekends or pulling an all-nighter once a week, your body is probably struggling to identify when it’s supposed to be asleep and when it’s supposed to be awake. Dr. Ruth Varkovitzky, a clinical psychologist specializing in treating sleep disorders, recommended being as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible. “Wake up at the same time every day (yes, even on the weekend!) and try to avoid napping, which breaks up sleep and takes away from the consolidated sleep span we need,” she said. Unlike bad boys, sleep works best when it’s consistent, so aim to fall asleep and wake up within the same hour every day. Oh, and if you’re prone to naps, try to avoid falling asleep during the day and get to bed earlier at night if you’re feeling tired.
4. Prioritize stress relief
Many experts I talked to explained that stress is the most common cause of insomnia, probably because most of us deal with stress on a regular basis (curse you, work deadlines!). “When the body is on high alert throughout the day, it can be hard to fall asleep at night,” Dr. Siebern said. “It’s especially problematic because lack of sleep due to insomnia can affect your ability to cope with demanding situations, causing even more stress,” agreed Dr. Li Åslund, PhD, a sleep expert at Sleep Cycle. “Then, we stress about not getting enough sleep, which makes it even harder to sleep and forms a vicious cycle.” In other words, your stress about not getting enough sleep is stopping you from getting enough sleep.
In general, work on stress relief throughout the day and make sure to have routines in place to help manage stress, like meditation, taking regular breaks, or therapy for a long-term solution. Especially if you work from home, set boundaries to transition out of your workday so as to not bring stressors into your night. Allow your body and mind to calm down by giving yourself a cutoff time, changing clothes, or having a ritual like lighting a candle to signify the workday is over.
5. Use your bed only for sleep and sex
As a general rule of thumb: The bed is only for sleep and sex (sex is important for sleep too, FYI). Watching TV, working on your laptop, having a snack, or even scrolling through Instagram in your bed can negatively impact your sleep at night. If your bed is just for sleep (or, you know, sex), the mind understands that getting in bed means it’s time to fall asleep. But if you work, watch TV, or even fight with your partner while in bed, the mind will associate your sleep space with other activities (including high-stress ones).
Make your bed a sacred space so that when you crawl into it at night, your mind and body know what to do. Besides just the normal no-nos like watching TV or working on your laptop, look into your pre-bedtime rituals. For example, reading before bed is a great way to relax the mind, but a career-related book could spark work anxiety or a thrilling novel could be overstimulating. Consider reading on the chair in your bedroom until you’re tired enough to get in bed or reading something relaxing. When it comes to waking up in the middle of the night, Dr. Aasmundsen-Fry recommended getting out of bed if you can’t fall back asleep in 20 minutes and doing something else until you feel tired. “Your brain needs to know that the bed is not for other activities and to learn to associate it with sleep,” she said.
6. Try essential oils
PSA: An oil diffuser on your nightstand is not just for decoration or making your bedroom smell good. Essential oils can be a powerful tool to help the body relax and fall asleep. “When I see patients who are suffering from insomnia, my biggest hack is essential oils,” said Dr. Peter Bailey MD, a family practice physician and expert contributor for Test Prep Insight. Dr. Bailey recommended lavender oil, which helps relieve insomnia and anxiety by promoting relaxation. “When diffusing, aromatic therapy provided by lavender oil can even help stimulate the release of melatonin, which makes you sleepy.” Try diffusing essential oils through a diffuser or using a pillow spray with lavender oil.
7. Get to know what does (and doesn’t) work for you
While these tips may help alleviate some of the common causes of insomnia, every body is different, and your causes and solutions for not getting quality sleep will likely be different from someone else’s. Whether you’re affected by a demanding tour schedule like Beyoncé or that 10 a.m. espresso shot is affecting your body more than you realize, insomnia looks and feels different to everyone. “There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, as everyone’s sleep situation varies,” Dr. Siebern explained. Start by observing what might not be working for you: What does your pre-bedtime routine look like? Are you working on stress management as much as you could be? Is an afternoon nap chipping away at your sleep, or is a glass of wine at night leading to sleep disruption? Bottom line: Do whatever you need to do to get a good night’s sleep, including working with a doctor or psychologist to find a solution.